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Golden girl Hannah goes the extra Miley

THE morning after the swim of her life, Hannah Miley decided she was ready to talk.

Hannah Miley has made many personal sacrifices in her quest for glory   Photograph: Phil Rider
Hannah Miley has made many personal sacrifices in her quest for glory Photograph: Phil Rider

Miley is almost as good at talking as she is at swimming, and there are two challenges common to the two disciplines: pacing oneself and pausing for breath. On this particular day, the double Commonwealth champion was not in any particular hurry. She took it all in her stride.

The relaxed mood was contagious. Patrick and Carmel Miley also agreed to do a round of interviews that almost stretched to two hours. After a tough couple of years for this family unit there is a new belief that anything is possible. Patrick is his daughter's coach, and had a lot to say, particularly because her victory the night before in the 400m individual medley had been the most satisfying moment of their journey to date. This is a voyage the whole family started when Hannah was 12, when it became apparent that she could be something special as a swimmer - even out of Inverurie.

Their local pool, Garioch AC, is half the length of the pool at Tollcross Park and, throughout Hannah's formative years, it was barely fit for purpose for recreation let alone the cultivation of a world-class talent. The Mileys' infrastructure is stronger now, but she still does eight or nine training sessions in any given week at Garioch, with just three sessions at the new 50m pool in Aberdeen.

Patrick has always taken a scientific approach to his daughter's swimming, a philosophy that she has been only too willing to lap up.

"She was always very literal," he said. "We asked her to kick the cat out once and she literally kicked it out. She was about four. That literal nature makes her easy to coach but you have to be careful as well."

Had Hannah taken too literally some of the advice that has come her way in the past two years after a second Olympic Games came and went with no medal to show for her efforts, there is a danger she might have given up competitive swimming and channelled her extraordinary energy into something else. An education, a coaching career, a normal life with the boyfriend whose existence she let slip when the emotions bubbled over on Thursday night, and who she had "not seen for six months". Why, on earth, did she have to take such a drastic step?

"I hope you don't mind but I do like keeping my personal life out of what I do, and I probably shot myself in the foot after the race because I hadn't checked if he was OK with me mentioning him," she said. "But I just needed total focus. I really had to put myself in a bubble and I sat down with my dad and it was 'if you really want this, what are you prepared to do and sacrifice?'

"For me, I had to cut myself off from everybody, including my boyfriend. As hard as it was, it probably ended up being a good thing because it allowed me to solely focus on my sport, and I guess it tested our relationship as well - and it seems fine at the moment."

Carmel deserves a lot of credit for her daughter becoming arguably the greatest female swimmer Scotland has produced. So do her sons, Alastair and Joseph, good young swimmers who now help their sister to train, acting as greyhound bunnies in parallel lanes. Hannah is 24 now, but Thursday suggested that she may be entering some sort of second prime, having tweaked her routine and renewed her dedication since London.

"This may not be politically correct but sometimes in swimming there's a definition that people can be too old for the sport. I totally disagree," said her father, who still flies helicopters offshore in his spare time.

"There are plenty of older swimmers out there, doing it. It's about your attention to detail and whether you can cope with the pressure because it's brutal. I refer to her toughness. It's one thing being tough in a swimsuit, and I've seen Hannah putting her hand up and being sick between her fingers, but I think it's a lot tougher to go 45 days getting up at 4.30, taking her heart rate, recording it and sending it through, getting the correct breakfast, and then training for two hours, coming back and having a second breakfast, controlling every detail, and being relentless.

"There's nobody imparting anything to Hannah. No-one says that's what you need. If she needs it, she'll tell us."

There is only one Hannah Miley, and there is no potential successor on the horizon. Not in Scotland, at any rate. She felt great pity for Michael Jamieson after he put in two perfectly decent swims in the 200m breaststroke on the opening day, only to find a younger compatriot who grew up about 25 miles away appear on his shoulder and take him down.

It was the kind of abrupt reminder of mortality that Miley herself has experienced when arriving at Olympic Games and World Championships as one of the favourites based on rankings, only to be shown up by some carefree wunderkind.

"I've known MJ for longer than I have Ross. He has always come up with silver and this is the one time I was so hoping and gunning for him to come up with gold, regardless of the time," said Hannah. "I do feel he probably put a lot of pressure on himself when he stated the time he wanted, but that's the athlete he is. He is very determined and focused and when he wants something he will do anything to make sure he gets it, and he will make sure it's done perfectly.

"In that race, Ross was just taking in the crowd. He was like a kid that had been given a whole bag of Haribo after the sweets, especially after he watched my 400 IM heat, he was like 'Oh my god, that crowd is amazing, I can't wait'. He was so looking forward to it, whereas with MJ, he was worried almost. He could feel the pressure.

"At the Olympics, he really was the underdog coming through and getting that silver medal was a huge surprise. I think this is the first time he has come into an international competition where he was the main target everybody was gunning for. And with all the posters going round with his image, it really did highlight the amount of pressure he was under and I don't think we appreciated that.

"He had more pressure on him than probably I did, so I feel for him, but if he is the athlete I know he is, he will use this to come back stronger. As cliched as it is, he will come back fighting from it."

It takes a fighter to know one. Whether it is the Irish blood in her or just a sheer bloody-minded refusal to let anybody else dictate the terms of her career, Miley came out swinging on the first day of her home Commonwealth Games.

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